By Julian Brunt
In 2015, I was driving on Porter Avenue in Ocean Springs and saw a sign on the side of the road. It said “Coffee, Biscuits, Beer and Friends.” The sign was just too Southern to ignore, so I pulled over, parked and went inside. I had a feeling that this was going to be my kind of place and never did I have a more providential thought in my life. The Greenhouse on Porter is a very special place indeed.
Writing about restaurants and food culture in Mississippi and the Deep South keeps me busy and constantly on the lookout for interesting places. I thought that the Greenhouse might make a good story, but it turned out to be a lot more than a story I would write about once and then just file away. This place was funky and sells homemade biscuits, but not like the ones Mom used to make. I found that they offered a biscuit special every day, one sweet and one savory. There was a sweet potato biscuit with homemade pimento and cheese, a lox biscuit with pickled onion, capers and a house made spread called “fluff” and a handful of other biscuit variations. But there was more to this place than just biscuits.
I started coming on a regular basis, meeting new friends and attending events like trivia, bingo, poetry night and weekend music concerts. The Greenhouse slowly became my home away from home; a place to visit but also a place to bring the laptop and get some work done. It just seemed to get better and better.
It is an old greenhouse, and when owners first found it, it was weed-filled, run down and in need of a lot of love. Jessie Zenor and Kait Sukiennik were not even looking for a business venture, but once they walked in the door the wheels began to turn. Kait had always wanted to learn how to make biscuits and Jessie was a coffee barista waiting to happen. You would have to see Kait and Jessie brainstorm to truly understand how these two connect. When they stand toe to toe and start throwing ideas at each other, magic happens, and that is the only way I know to describe the Greenhouse: pure magic.
Jessie and Kait got the old greenhouse cleaned up, tables and chairs were bought, benches made. The counter in front of the kitchen came together, as did the menu, but most importantly was the concept. This was a place for the community to enjoy and everyone was going to be welcomed here. In fact, they had bumper stickers printed that said simply, “Everyone,” and they meant it. To this day, you will find not only people from around the country, but people from around the world and from every community as well. Success did not come quickly, but as the community began to realize what a jewel the Greenhouse was, business picked up.
I can say in all honesty that I have met more interesting people at the Greenhouse than I have met any place in the world that I have visited. Perhaps the first interesting person I met there was a British doctor that had shipped an old BMW motorcycle to Venezuela and rode it to Alaska, stopping in Ocean Springs along the way. How about Cyan? A lovely young lady with a degree in genetics, who is also one of the most interesting and accomplished writers I have ever met. She has been published in magazines like the Harvard Review and calls herself a “freelance science communication specialist”. Zaba is a geologist who was working for the Gulf Coast Research Lab when she first walked in the door of the Greenhouse.
I meet a Turkish couple there that was touring the USA on bicycles- not the touring kind, the Wal-Mart kind. Then I met the young lady who was studying Irish dance and I will never forget the time she gave an impromptu demonstration in the middle of the Greenhouse. What a delight! I would be remiss if I did not mention Captain Jack, a retired captain of ocean-going vessels that was once captured on the Niger River in Africa by terrorist and held captive.
I could go on and on, but let me just say this: if you go to the Greenhouse, when the door opens and someone walks in, you better look up. There is no telling just who it might be.
Let me give you an idea on what other people think about this profoundly special place.
Corey Christy is the outreach coordinator at Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi. He is a regular at the Greenhouse as a patron and as a musician. Corey has been friends with Jessie and Kait since before the Greenhouse opened and has watched the dream materialize. He says, “It really does feel like a family. Every time you go you are going to meet someone you have never met before and the people you do meet are willing to share ideas and stories. The Greenhouse just feels like Ocean Springs, and no other place has the vibe or the diversity that this place does.”
Mick Hartsfield, a U.S. Army veteran, Vietnam combat helicopter pilot, graphic artist and casino administrator said many of the same things about the Greenhouse as Corey. “The Greenhouse provides a sense of community, a diverse crowd that joins together that can be magic. There was a time when Symone French (a jazz singer from Mobile) played inside because of rain and it was as intimate a moment as I have had anywhere in the world, with a crowd that was as different as could be. The Greenhouse is the local coffee shop you have dreamed of and the hotspot nightclub where you want to be Friday night.”
Scotty Leatherman is a world traveling tennis professional, historian of some note and a daily regular at the Greenhouse. He says, “From the beginning, Kait and Jessie were more interested in creating a community than just a coffee shop. They wanted a place where they could blend art and music and people in a way that could only be done in Ocean Springs.”
Symone French, the afore mentioned jazz singer who performs often at the Greenhouse says, “There are so many things that makes the Greenhouse special, but the number one reason is simple: the people. From Jessie and Kait to the patrons... the GH wouldn’t shine quite as bright without the wonderful people involved.”
There is now also a Greenhouse location in Biloxi.
There are a lot of ways I could end this story, but I can’t think of a better one than sharing with you the Greenhouse recipe for biscuits:
Greenhouse on Porter Biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup cold butter
1 cup full fat buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, add and mix together all-purpose flour, baking powder, salt and black pepper.
Chop butter into half inch cubes. Using your fingers, squish the butter into the flour mixture until the largest pieces are about the size of peas. Stir in buttermilk, mixing only until the dough comes together. Be careful not to over work the biscuit dough.
Dump dough onto a floured surface and roughly shape into a square about an inch thick. Cut into nine pieces.
Place on a parchment lined pan and bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Serve with any topping you dream up.
Greenhouse on Porter 404 Porter Ave, Ocean Springs (228) 238-5680